At the Twin Galaxies Festival over the weekend one of the best things at the show (besides playing classic video games and pinball of course) was getting to see the first public screening of Man VS. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibble.
Here is the trailer for the movie;
And here is the synopsis of the film;
If you ever played the game “Snake” on your early model Nokia cellphone, then you’re familiar with “Nibbler,” the original “snake” game. MAN VS SNAKE tells the story of Tim McVey (the gamer not the bomber) who in 1984, on a single quarter (and over forty-four hours of non-stop play) was the first person in history to score over one billion points on a video game. This historic accomplishment led the City of Ottumwa to declare a civic day in Tim’s honor (Tim McVey Day) and present him with the key to the city. Twenty-five-years later, when rumors of a higher score surface online, attributed to Italian kick-boxing champion Enrico Zanetti, it calls into question everything Tim McVey has believed for decades and forces him to make a decision: either set a new world record, or risk losing his legacy forever. Now middle-aged and out of shape, Tim discovers that reclaiming the Nibbler title will not be easy. Packed with unexpected twists and turns, the film documents one of the epic achievements of the classic gaming era and proves a powerful tale of the triumph of the human spirit.
(If you live in the local LA area Arcade 2084 actually has a working Nibbler that you can play as you can see from the above picture)
There will be lots of comparisons of this film to The King of Kong that came out in 2007 and while there are a lot of similar things like trying to get the high score on a video game (in this case Nibbler) but I found this story to be a lot more interesting and personal.
The thing that really sets this story apart is the fact that most people including gamers that have never heard of Nibbler. In fact Rock-Ola the company that made Nibbler only made 5 video games. They were known for making Jukeboxes. While getting high scores on video games are nothing new, Nibbler was one of the few that you could score over a billion points. Yep it would rollover and still keep the score going after you hit a billion. There are two factors that make the film work so well. First Tim McVey is a very relatable everyman. He no only got the first billion on the game he never bragged about it or for that matter made a big deal about it. Once he did it he went on and had a normal life. McVey is simply a normal guy that until this film didn’t really talk much about his 15 minutes of fame as a kid. Most people would still be going on about it but this is what makes the film that much more interesting.
The second thing that worked well in the films favor is the tone of the film that directors Andrew Seklir and Tim Kinzy take a nice backseat approach to the story. They did some very smart things that really does the film a huge favor. Because the events of McVey getting the high score back in 1984 they not only used new reports from the time but they decided to have the scenes recreated with animation with the voices of the themselves. They wisely keep their point of view to a minimum that can make or break a documentary. In a documentary the filmmakers control the way that the audience can perceive events and people. It is a very tricky balance to do and Seklir and Kinzy keep the focus of the film spot on. While there is a small amount of their point of view, they pretty much just present the facts to the viewer.
As with any hero story it helps to have a “villain” in the story and Dwayne Richard fits the bill perfectly. He is the exact opposite of McVey in that he wants to be #1 at any cost and loves being on camera. It had to have been difficult for the directors to keep from going down the path to make Richard less of a n ass than he seems to be. The film also has Walter Day and Billy Mitchell and they are a big part of the story. Because McVey’s high score was at the original Twin Galaxies arcade in Iowa it was great to have the screening at the Twin Galaxies Festival with Day and Mitchell.
The twist and turns that the story tells is quite amazing and I was riveted to the film the whole time. One of the other things that impressed me about the film is how they take the time to explain things like the questionable logic board in Richard’s high score record. They also talk to the creators of the game to give insight to how the game was made. The filmmakers make the film very accessible to people who are not gamers and simply make a very compelling film. While I will not give anything away as the film came to the last act of the story, I found myself being OK with McVey not regaining his high score on Nibbler. While it would have been disappointing it really showed how well the film told the story of McVey and his journey.
Is this movie worth your time and money?
If you are a fan of video games then this is a must see film. I found myself mesmerized by the story and is a very impressive documentary. A sign of a great documentary is that you feel as if you get to know the people who the film portrays and with Man VS. Snake I have a better sense of Tim McVey as a person than just a high score name on a video game. You really share the ups and downs of all of everyone’s stories from the big to the small. You honestly don’t know where the film will end up and it really keeps you on the edge of your seat. Of course the directors being editors keeps the film tight and on track the whole time. I never once looked at my watch to see what time it was. That is a great sign of a good movie it that you are so immersed in it that you lose track of time. This film is a real winner and a must see!
Right now the film continues to play festivals and special screenings. You might be able to catch it locally. I spoke to the directors after the screening and they are trying to secure distribution and home video currently. If you head over to either their website or Facebook page they have all of the updated new on the film.
Here are some exclusive photos of directors Andrew Seklir and Tim Kinzy from the screening at the Twin Galaxies Festival along with Walter Day and Billy Mitchell. I also took a group photo of the attendees for the screening who gave the film a standing ovation. Seeing the film with a group of fellow gamers was a nice treat. I also hope to interview the filmmakers in the near future about the film.
Director’s Tim Kinzy (left) and Andrew Seklir (right)
Kinzy & Seklir
Billy Mitchell presenting the film to the packed house.
Walter Day telling stories about the film.
Walter, Tim, Richie Knucklez, Andrew and Billy
The screening room at Twin Galaxies Festival with the audience and cast & crew